The suitors are slowly lining up to sign 19-year-old Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada, but there’s also a dilemma teams are facing that isn’t being talked about. As great as the teenager looks in workouts and could end up being as a big leaguer, there’s a limit to what teams can offer him without incurring financial penalties. 

In May 2012, Ben Badler of Baseball America broke down the international spending rules that were agreed to in the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement. There’s a lot of language in the piece, but here’s the key piece that applies to Moncada:

The international signing pool includes any player not subject to the draft, which includes anyone from outside the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico—with a couple of exemptions. … So a Dominican player released out of Triple-A who signs as a minor league free agent won’t have his contract count against his new team’s international pool.

The other exemption involves players coming to MLB from foreign professional leagues. Players who are at least at least 23 and have played five years in a recognized professional league, such as Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, will be exempt. 

Because Moncada is 19 years old, he’s subject to the international spending rules. In April 2014, Badler wrote about the international bonus pool and slot values that are assigned in reverse order of finish, like the draft, so Houston had the most money. 

Here’s where things get tricky, as teams have been exceeding their bonus pool limit since the rule was implemented. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs explained why teams were willing to go above and beyond the call of duty:

The reason they did that was because the punishment wasn’t big enough; if you signed two years worth of players in one year, it basically costs the same but you get half of your players a year earlier.

MLB noticed this and upped the penalty before the 2014 period opened, with the same 100% tax, but now with a two-year ban on signings over $300,000.

McDaniel also wrote that teams still weren’t deterred, citing the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees as specific examples of teams that continued to go over their allotted money to add talent. 

By all accounts, Moncada is a unique talent who will put the strings on the ludicrous spending restrictions that Major League Baseball has tried to instill on teams. 

According to Jonathan Mayo of, Moncada had scouts practically drooling during a November workout in Guatemala:

Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada worked out in Guatemala on Wednesday in front of an estimated 60-70 scouts, and all reports point to the teenaged infielder being as good as advertised.

The 19-year-old Moncada was put through his paces, running a 60-yard dash, taking batting practice and infield at three positions, showing the kind of five-tool potential that has led scouts to compare him to fellow Cubans Jorge Soler and Yasiel Puig.

On the 20-80 scouting scale, Mayo listed Moncada as having plus (60) hitting, power and arm strength with plus-plus (70) speed. The worst tool on the list is fielding, which is average (50), so worst is a relative term in this case. 

Mayo also quoted an anonymous scouting director as saying Moncada is “worth going way over your international spending pool.” 

Going back to McDaniel’s article, while he doesn’t have a definitive answer of what the actual cost will be, he did speculate about how high Moncada’s deal could get:

Here’s the question: with essentially a dollar-for-dollar tax on the bonus for this player, how much would you pay him in an upfront bonus, in what would surely be a fierce bidding war?

I feel like $50 million (with a roughly $45 million tax on top of that) is the most you could justify while $30 million seems reasonable enough that multiple teams may be willing to pay that much. 

For perspective, since Jorge Soler and Yasiel Puig were mentioned by Mayo as comps for Moncada, Soler signed with the Cubs for $30 million over nine years, and Puig got $42 million over seven years from the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

It seems reasonable, then, to expect Moncada will get a deal somewhere in that vicinity. You know what? It’s just further evidence that MLB’s insistence on trying to keep player bonuses down is a pointless venture. 

The only reason for a league to implement spending restrictions on talent is to protect the owners from themselves, which is odd because the sport is coming off a year with a record $9 billion in revenue, according to Maury Brown of Forbes.

Since revenues are at an all-time high, teams should be spending more money to acquire talent with the hopes of winning a championship instead of being penalized because the owners convinced themselves that someone has to keep their wallets at bay. 

It’s possible Moncada won’t turn into the star his raw talent suggests, as prospects flame out all the time. Yet given his age and potential, he’s one of the few players legitimately worth the financial penalty that will come by giving him a deal commensurate with his ability.

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